Reflections on Zootopia

zootopiaThe world would be so much better if we could all just get along, but such utopias don’t really exist. Prejudice is so dangerous precisely because so many have bought into the idea that we can exist in this utopia. We all believe we have evolved beyond the prejudices of our past, the racism of generations gone by. Zootopia exposes that fallacy in both a powerful and yet beautiful way.

(Warning: Spoilers ahead)

The story revolves around a plucky bunny with big dreams. Judy Hopps (voiced by the bubbly Ginnifer Goodwin) is the first every bunny rabbit police officer on the Zootopia Police force, but her addition has been less than pleasing to everyone. After all she’s just a little bunny. Though Judy is lauded by the pro-diversity Mayor, and graduated top of her class the world of Zootopia, it turns out, is not as inclusive as it appears. The sly and cynical fox Nick Wilde (voiced by the dry-witted Jason Bateman) knows this reality and is simply living up to the expectations of others when he performs his hustles. When some predators start reverting back to their “savage” ways, however, the city becomes captured by fear. The divide between predator and prey growing ever more widening. It’s up to Judy to figure out what’s going on.

The movie could conceivably be described in ways typical of a children’s animated movie, with the typical animated movie clichés: believe in yourself, you can achieve the impossible, be who you are, etc. But there is a strong dominate theme of prejudice throughout the film which, while not being preachy, is nonetheless impossible to miss, especially in these highly volatile political and racially tense times.

Regularly the characters in the film highlight the subtlety of prejudice. When one cop calls Judy “cute,” she politely points out that while one bunny may call another bunny cute, it’s not okay for someone else to call a bunny cute. The inclusive-minded mayor too can’t help but disregard his “sheepish” assistant. Even Judy herself allows the fears of her parents to convince her that all foxes are dangerous; she carries fox spray with her throughout the film. At a major press conference Judy voices the same concerns of many others, that the violent predators simply have a biological problem. Their “savage” behavior is in their genes.

The social commentary is not subtle. In a season of intense fear mongering by the media, race baiting by presidential candidates, police violence, and systemic racism Zootopia serves to implicate us all. None of is as “evolved” as we think we are. We are all prone to these sorts of failures. The only hope we have is to be honest about them, work to address them, ask for forgiveness when we fail, and seek to make the world the best as we can for one another. There is no utopia, there is only reality. Sometimes it’s beautiful, sometimes it’s depressing, but honesty allows us to see both and work at living together.

Judy is a model example in the film not because she is perfect, but because she is honest and repentant. She does have prejudices against foxes. Even after she meets one and befriends him she still struggles with the assumptions she was indoctrinated with throughout life. Judy’s beauty, however, shines through in her repentance to Nick. Towards the end of the film, she recognizes her failures, admits them, and seeks forgiveness. The movie ends with a more honest and moving portrayal of this “utopian” society. One that while not romanticized, is still beautiful. ” Life’s a little bit messy. We all make mistakes,” Judy says as the movie ends. “No matter what type of animal you are, change starts with you.” It’s a lesson we can all stand to learn.

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